Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Cape York Peninsula - Strand and Dunes

Long stretches of coast along the length of Cape York Peninsula are still isolated and pristine. There are many long stretches of beach bordered by Casuarina and pandanus and rocky headlands. Many of these beaches still have the natural formations of a strandline, above the high tide mark, the beach crest and further inland the ridge, that together form the strand. The coastal fore-dunes begin along the beach ridge, and inland from them are the hind-dunes, that are more permanent than the fore-dunes and have remained unchanged for longer periods. In its natural state this system of dunes buffers the coastline from the occasional damage done by cyclones and associated rough seas, absorbing the energy of the waves and avoiding the removal of beaches as occurs in areas where human activity, such as replacing the dune system with artificial structures, result in loss of coastline to the sea at a much increased rate, and taking longer for the sand to be returned.

The Gulf of Carpentaria lies on the western side of the Peninsula, and the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef on the eastern side.  The western and eastern sides of the Peninsula are very different. The coastline on the eastern side has been sculpted by the ceaseless activity of waves that are often blown onto the coast across the Pacific Ocean, especially when the southeasterly winds are blowing. The result is high cliffs of sandstone and other rocks. In places white silica sand dunes are up to 100 m high. These dunes occur at places such as near Orford Ness, between Cape Grenville and the Olive River, and from Lookout Point to Cape Bedford. There are some spectacular features at Ussher Point with its bright red bauxite cliffs and Cape Melville where there are huge black granite boulders. In places large headlands drop precipitously to the sea with clear blue water and fringing reefs. The northern side of the headlands that are protected from the prevailing southeasterlies for most of the year often have long stretches of glittering beaches curving along the margins of bays. At other places there are rocky beaches, mudflats, mangrove-lined estuaries. Each of these different habitats has its own suite of marine and terrestrial fauna and flora.

Between the Edward and Archer Rivers the coastline is fringed by low-lying, parallel beach ridges. These ridges are lined with older dunes vegetated with dune woodland. Extensive areas of marine plains, saltflats, floodplains and the estuaries of the Archer River, Kirk River, Holroyd River, and Edward River that are lined with mangroves extend some distance inland. To the north and south of Weipa are red bauxite cliffs along the coastline. There is a maze of lush mangrove swamps and meandering tidal creeks, and interspersed among them, low beach ridges and salt marshes, from north of Port Musgrave to the mouth of the Jardine River, along the northewestern shore.

The Arafura Sea is linked to the Coral Sea by Torres Strait. The Great Barrier Reef forms the eastern edge of the strait. The Great Barrier Reef  is about 2300 km long along the continental shelf between Australia's most northerly land, Bramble Cay, in the northeastern corner of Torres Strait, to as far south as Lady Elliot Island.

Sources & Further reading

Dawn W. Frith & Clifford B. Frith, Cape York Peninsula: A Natural History, Reed, 1995

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                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading